Celtic polytheism is the name for a set of beliefs (or a religion) which was originally held by the European people called Celts today. There was a movement to convert these people to Christianity; this process was finished by about the year 500 AD. The first findings relating to this set of beliefs can be dated to about500 BC. The system of beliefs lasted roughly one millennium, and engulfed the La Tène period, and the Roman era. In the case of the Celts on the British Isles, this also included parts of the Iron Age, known as British and Irish Iron Age respectively. Another term frequently used for Celtic polytheism is Celtic paganism.
Celtic polytheism was one of a larger group of Iron Age polytheistic religions of the Indo-European family. It comprised a large degree of variation both geographically and chronologically, although "behind this variety, broad structural similarities can be detected" allowing there to be "a basic religious homogeneity" amongst the Celtic peoples.
There are many different names for the gods of the Celtic pantheon. These names have either been recorded by Ancient Greek or Ancient Roman geographers, or they have been found in inscriptions on graves. Among the most prominent of these gods are Teutatis, Taranis and Lugus. People involved in comparative mythology have also added figures from medieval Irish mythology to this list; they say that these figures are deities or heroes from earlier times that have been interpreted in a different way. This process is known as Euhemerisation, after Euhemeros, a philosopher from Ancient Greece who described this process.
According to Roman historians, the Celts practiced human sacrifice as part of their religion. There also seems to have been a caste of "magico-religious specialists", which were called druids in Gaul, Britain and Ireland, but very little is known about them today.
The Roman Empire conquered Gaul between 58 and 51 BC, and southern Britannia in the year 43 AD. After this, the Celtic religious practices changed, and elements of Romanisation started to show. This resulted in the Gallo-Roman culture, which had its own religious traditions. The number of deities increased, and deities such as Cernunnos, Artio or Telesphorus were added.
In the 5th and 6th centuries, there was another change, as Christianity became the dominant faith in the Celtic area. It replaced the earlier religions, but influenced later mythology. In the 20th century, a new relious movement called Celtic Neopaganism was created.
- Ross, Anne (1974). Pagan Celtic Britain: Studies in Iconography and Tradition. London: Sphere Books Ltd.
- Hutton, Ronald (1991). The Pagan Religions of the Ancient British Isles: their nature and legacy. Oxford, UK and Cambridge, USA: Blackwell.
- Jones, Prudence and Pennick, Nigel (1995). A History of Pagan Europe. Routledge.
- Cunliffe, Barry (1997). The Ancient Celts. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Page 184.
- Ross, Anne (1986). The Pagan Celts. London: B.T. Batsford. p103
- Hutton, Ronald (2009). Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the Druids in Britain. Yale University Press. Page 17.